Latest F1 news in brief – Saturday

UPDATE #2 More updates shown in blue below.

03/23/13 Updates shown in red below.


  • Massa's return to form has made Ferrari stronger says Red Bull's Marko

    Massa makes Ferrari 'strong as a team' – Marko

  • Danner worried V6s to spoil F1 competition
  • Sauber could have swapped drivers in Australia
  • Lotus flattered by Newey's interest in 2013 car
  • Marussia merger 'made no sense' – Caterham
  • Lotus wants new contract talks with Raikkonen
  • Raikkonen friendship can survive F1 battle – Vettel
  • F1 correspondents tip Alonso for 2013 title
  • Still no cockpit warning lights for Sepang
  • Raikkonen given three grid spot penalty New
  • Button says his McLaren is getting faster New
  • Alonso expects Raikkonen 'pressure' in race New
  • Red Bull, Mercedes, want 2012 Pirelli tires return New
  • Ferrari working better than ever – Alonso New

Massa makes Ferrari 'strong as a team' – Marko
(GMM) Felipe Massa has made Ferrari a foe to fear for the constructors' world championship, according to Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko.

Brazilian Massa struggled since returning from his near-fatal crash of 2009, but towards the end of last season the 31-year-old bounced right back onto the pace.

"He was ahead of (Fernando) Alonso in practice," Brazilian commentator Lito Cavalcanti said on Sportv in Malaysia.

"In fact Felipe was faster than Alonso in the last three races," he added.

Last year, amid Massa's slump, Ferrari lost the constructors' championship to Red Bull by 60 points.

Red Bull's Marko now says: "In contrast to last year, Massa is now at Alonso's level, and so Ferrari is now one of our strongest opponents in the constructors' championship.

"They are strong as a team," he said on Austrian Servus TV.

Ferrari technical director Pat Fry told Speed Week: "He (Massa) has continued this year where he left off in 2012.

"As a team, we are delighted with him, not least because of the constructors' standings."

After the Melbourne season opener, Maranello based Ferrari leads Lotus and Red Bull by 4 and 7 points respectively.

Danner worried V6s to spoil F1 competition
(GMM) Former F1 driver Christian Danner is worried the move from V8 to turbo V6 engines next year is a bad move for the sport.

After a long period of 'frozen' development of the current 2.4 liter units, the cars will be powered by all-new V6 engines next year in a dramatic shift for F1.

But Danner, also a commentator for German TV RTL, is worried.

"The most recent championships were, I think, the best there ever was," he told Playboy magazine.

"The reasons for this are clear. First, the technology is so developed that the cars are very reliable.

"Secondly, because of the regulations, the four engine manufacturers have been supplying practically equivalent engines.

"The introduction of the six cylinder engines is a huge technical challenge," Danner continued.

"The engines will play a much more important role, and so I am afraid of the effect that will have on the competition."

Sauber could have swapped drivers in Australia
(GMM) Sauber could have kept Nico Hulkenberg in the race last Sunday in Australia, it has emerged.

Ultimately, the German sat out Melbourne with a terminal fuel tank problem, so serious that he is at the wheel of an all-new chassis this weekend in Malaysia.

But he had qualified eleventh in Melbourne, seven places ahead of rookie teammate Esteban Gutierrez.

It now emerges that Sauber could actually have sidelined Mexican Gutierrez, giving the working C32 to Hulkenberg and maintaining a very real chance of a good result.

In the end, Gutierrez finished outside of the points in Australia.

"Did Sauber give away championship points?" wondered veteran Blick newspaper correspondent Roger Benoit.

"The team confirmed on Friday (in Malaysia) that the FIA would have permitted a driver change."

However, Hulkenberg would have had to start the race in Gutierrez's car from the pitlane.

And team boss Monisha Kaltenborn insisted: "It was not an option for us."

But Germany's Auto Motor und Sport said the situation raises a fascinating question.

"What would Red Bull or Ferrari do in the same situation, if the world title was at stake? Would Mark Webber or Felipe Massa give up their cars to the team captains?" wondered correspondent Michael Schmidt.

Lotus flattered by Newey's interest in 2013 car
(GMM) In Malaysia on Friday, Mark Webber was not the only top driver groaning about the overwhelmingly dominant factor in the paddock at present.

"Tires, tires, tires, tires, tires," the Australian said without smiling, admitting he thinks the situation is a "joke".

His Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel agreed that the way the heavily degrading Pirelli tires are dictating proceedings so far in 2013 is a frustration.

"It is not a lot of fun," German news agency DPA quotes him as saying.

"It's quite a mess when you look at how long they are lasting," the world champion added.

Another world champion, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, recalled Michael Schumacher's glory days, and how he used to study the style of the famous seven time world champion.

"I used to look at the onboard images and pictures and try to learn what he was doing," the Spaniard is quoted by El Confidential.

"Now it's about what is happening with the car from corner to corner, not about who is at the wheel," added Alonso.

Less grumbling can be heard from the Lotus garage, after Kimi Raikkonen won in Australia and is being tipped to once again nurse the Pirellis to the checkered flag this weekend.

Team boss Eric Boullier admitted the interest of a keen observer on the grid in Melbourne was flattering.

"I'll give Adrian Newey a (team) shirt if he spends that much time with our car on the grid," the Frenchman smiled to RMC Sport.

"It's normal; it's the name of the game that if you have some performance, other teams will try to copy you.

"If someone is interested, it is because we have done a good job," Boullier added.

Marussia merger 'made no sense' – Caterham
(GMM) Caterham has belatedly confirmed reports that talks about a possible merger with rival backmarker Marussia took place over the winter.

In explaining the delay in Marussia being offered a 2013 commercial deal, Bernie Ecclestone dropped the bombshell about the mooted merger.

"As I understand it, the conclusion (of the merger talks) was unacceptable to our shareholders," Marussia chief executive Graeme Lowdon said on Thursday.

"So nothing happened."

Initially, Caterham pointedly denied the existence of the merger talks, team founder Tony Fernandes insisting "no such thing" ever took place.

New team boss Cyril Abiteboul told the New Straits Times: "I'm still young and new here, but since I've been here I must have heard stories about mergers at least ten times.

"These talks with Marussia happened over the Christmas period and as with everything, we looked at whether it made any sense and it didn't make sense," he added.

"End of story."

Meanwhile, Abiteboul and Fernandes were spotted chatting in the Sepang pitlane on Saturday morning with former team driver Heikki Kovalainen.

"Who knows what will happen in the future?" the Finn, who arrived at the Malaysian GP venue on Saturday morning in a green Ferrari road car, told British broadcaster Sky.

Lotus wants new contract talks with Raikkonen
(GMM) Lotus team owner Gerard Lopez has left the door open for a new deal with current championship leader Kimi Raikkonen.

Finn Raikkonen, who became the first winner of the 2013 season in Australia last weekend, is not saying if he wants to extend his contract beyond the end of the year.

"Let's wait and see," the famously phlegmatic 33-year-old said.

Luxembourger Lopez admitted he will stage talks with Raikkonen – who according to many is fitter and happier at Lotus than ever before in his F1 career – when the time is right.

"We have a very easy relationship with Kimi," Lopez told Turun Sanomat newspaper.

"At the moment everything is perfect, so of course we will discuss how to proceed.

"I don't think it's so much about negotiations, but how we decide to continue the adventure together," he added.

Raikkonen is, however, very expensive for a team without the biggest budget in pitlane, as the original contract negotiated includes healthy bonuses for points.

Last year, his 207 points reportedly earned him millions on top of his retainer.

"But these points are good for both sides — team and driver," insisted Lopez.

"We are living in exciting times. We knew before the first race that we are better than last season, but we didn't know exactly what the others had done over the winter.

"We talk about tires, but Kimi's performance (in Australia) was brilliant."

Raikkonen friendship can survive F1 battle – Vettel
(GMM) Sebastian Vettel insists he is not worried his friendship with Kimi Raikkonen will suffer as they go wheel-to-wheel for the title in 2013.

The pair are arguably the closest friends among all the drivers in the pitlane, living close to one another in Switzerland and often meeting up to play badminton.

But they have never fought against each other for F1's biggest prize — Raikkonen departed F1 at the end of 2009, just as Vettel began his series of titles in 2010.

So will the heat of a championship battle in 2013, with Raikkonen already leading Vettel in the world championship, spoil their friendship?

"I think you have to separate the two things," German Vettel told Bild newspaper.

"Anyway, we get along very well, but it's not like we spend every spare minute in the paddock together," he added.

Bild correspondent Frank Schneider wrote: "Raikkonen and Vettel are completely different.

"Raikkonen is tattooed, smokes, drinks, while Vettel lives a disciplined life free of scandal."

Will Alonso win 2013 title, or will Vettel win his 4th straight

F1 correspondents tip Alonso for 2013 title
(GMM) The overwhelming majority of international media correspondents surveyed in the F1 paddock have tipped Fernando Alonso to win the 2013 title.

Spanish newspaper AS's Manuel Franco surveyed 21 of his journalistic counterparts at Sepang, and "Rarely are the (writers') opinions so unanimous", he said.

Of the accredited journalists surveyed, "Only three of them think Sebastian Vettel will be world champion again this year," revealed Franco.

"The others count without hesitation on Fernando Alonso," he added.

Franco continued: "What is significant is that the Spaniard is seen as the favorite by (correspondents from) the US, Russia, Brazil, Finland, Mexico …"

Franco said another fascinating finding of his survey is that "only one" of the correspondents said Ferrari's F138 is the best car on the 2013 grid.

Still no cockpit warning lights for Sepang
The telemetry issues suffered by governing body the FIA throughout the season-opening Australian Grand Prix weekend have continued at Sepang, meaning the drivers will again be forced to race without cockpit warning lights on Sunday afternoon.

In addition to supplying flag information, the system controls DRS activation. The FIA established an automatic signal to turn on the device after two laps of the race in Melbourne, but it could not be switched off in yellow flag zones or during spells of rain, leaving race engineers to inform their drivers when its use was permitted.

No incidents were caused as a direct result of the telemetry issues in Australia.

Raikkonen sent back 3 spots

Raikkonen given three grid spot penalty
Kimi Raikkonen has been given a three-place grid penalty for impeding Nico Rosberg in Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying.

The Australian GP winner had been seventh fastest in the rain-affected Sepang qualifying session. But his Lotus will now start 10th because race officials determined he blocked Rosberg's Mercedes at Turn 14.

Rosberg qualified sixth.

Button says his McLaren is getting faster
Jenson Button says McLaren has made good progress with its car in dry conditions since Melbourne.

"To be two tenths off the guy who won last weekend I don't think is too bad," said the 2009 world champion. "It's funny though because these conditions seemed to really work for us until this point.

"I couldn't find a balance in the wet; I struggled with lack of grip at high-speed at the rear, but I'd take that any day of the week for a better car in the dry.

"If you look through qualifying in Q1 and Q2 on dry tires we were more competitive. Still nowhere near the top but we're more competitive.

"The guys have done a good job of getting everything out of the car at the moment and I think having two cars in the top 10 is great."

"I'm much happier in terms of the long-run pace than in Melbourne," he added.

"I'm looking forward to the race and I wasn't really looking forward to the race in Melbourne. I think we have a better race car.

"It's one week from a tough weekend for us and already we've made some small improvements, although the circuit helps with how smooth it is.

"We're doing a lot of work early in sessions to really understand the car, help the development, and to get the best out if it. We're getting there.

Alonso expects Raikkonen 'pressure' in race
(GMM) Fernando Alonso on Saturday sounded unfazed as his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa continued to hold the upper hand.

Brazilian Massa almost lost his seat for 2013, but in the most recent races – the tail end of 2012 and now Australia and Malaysia this season – he has outpaced the team's 'number 1' Spaniard Alonso.

"I don't think the (grid) positions are very important these days," Alonso said, after qualifying behind Massa and back to back pole sitter Sebastian Vettel in Malaysia.

"For sure the last two races we are behind (Massa) on the grid but so far on Saturday there are no points."

Indeed, in Melbourne, Red Bull's Vettel started on pole but finished just third, and in Malaysia it is believed the energy drink owned team is struggling markedly with the wear of the heavily degrading Pirelli tires.

Championship leader Kimi Raikkonen qualified just seventh at Sepang – as he did in Melbourne – and he now moves back a further three places due to holding up Nico Rosberg during the decisive Saturday session.

Alonso said: "If you have a good race pace, as I think Kimi has or Lotus has, I think they will arrive sooner or later in the race and will put some pressure on us."

When asked who Lotus' biggest rivals are for victory on Sunday, team boss Eric Boullier was quoted by Auto Motor und Sport as succinctly answering: "Ferrari."

Red Bull, Mercedes, want 2012 Pirelli tires return
(GMM) Top teams Red Bull and Mercedes want Pirelli to rush last year's tires back into service.

According to Germany's Auto Motor und Sport, the two outfits are arguing that it is not fair that the tire supplier's 2013 products seem to be penalizing the best cars.

Indeed, while in the past high downforce tended to minimize tire wear, the opposite phenomenon is apparently occurring now, and according to Red Bull and Mercedes that also poses a safety risk.

Correspondent Michael Schmidt said: "Adrian Newey has made the direct link between downforce and wear."

World champion Sebastian Vettel confirmed: "The better the car, the worse shape you're in."

Another growing gripe is that Lotus has gained an unfair advantage by supplying its 2010 car – the Enstone-designed Renault R30 – to be used as Pirelli's exclusive track testing car.

"It's obvious that the Pirelli tires are designed for this type of car," Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko is quoted as saying.

"The Lotus of today has the same DNA."

Ferrari working better than ever – Alonso
Fernando Alonso says Ferrari is working better than it ever has been since he arrived at the outfit back in 2010, with the Spaniard in a positive frame of mind about his chances in tomorrow's Malaysian Grand Prix after securing a top-three start.

Alonso, who was narrowly beaten to the front row of the grid by team-mate Felipe Massa in a wet final phase of qualifying, believes a podium finish is now a realistic target for Sunday afternoon's race and has not ruled out fighting for the victory.

"I am very happy with this position as it’s been too long since I qualified in the top three!" said Alonso, whose previous best qualifying result came in the form of pole position for the 2012 German Grand Prix.

"Maybe the rain helped us a bit as we were not the quickest in the dry, but starting in the top three gives us a realistic chance of a podium and we can even dream about winning. Of the past three years, this seems to be the moment when everything appears to be working for the best: performance, strategy, pit-stops."

Alonso added that if the rain stays away, Ferrari can be 'reasonably optimistic' about its race potential after an encouraging set of long runs during Friday practice.

"Now we must see how tomorrow will turn out, because it’s always a lottery if it rains," Alonso commented. "Even if, in the current Formula 1, the start is not the most important thing, we will still try to make a good one in order to maintain position or even to try and get past Vettel at the first corner. Then we will see: our race pace in Australia and the long run here on Friday means we can be reasonably optimistic."

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